It was huge news among the small number of people who could be
called computer nerds at the time — people like Paul Allen, who
was working as a programmer for Honeywell in Boston.
When he bought a copy of the January 1975 issue of Popular
Electronics at the Out of Town newsstand in Harvard Square, with
the Altair on the cover, he and an old friend — a Harvard
sophomore named Bill Gates — got excited. Immediately, they knew
they wanted to try to make the Altair run BASIC, a language they’d
both learned in its original timeshared-via-Teletype form at the
Lakeside School in Seattle.
Actually, Allen had been ruminating about the possibility of
building his own BASIC even before he knew about the Altair.
“There hadn’t been attempts to write a full-blown programming
language for a microprocessor,” he explains. “But when the chips
leading up to the 8080 processor became available, I realized we
could write a program for it that would be powerful enough to
For those of us of a certain age, a BASIC prompt was what you’d expect to see when you turned any computer on.